The Covid-19 pandemic has caused a change in the way that the immigration courts around the country have been conducting final removal hearings. In-person hearings have generally been suspended and the immigration court is now conducting most trials or final hearings on video-conferencing platforms such as Webex. While this new process for hearing cases may provide a certain ease of access for attorneys and respondents, a number of studies have found that virtual hearings result in worse outcomes for respondent in removal and asylum cases. It appears that non-English speakers who required the need for a telephonic interpreter were more disadvantaged. Additionally, where a respondent is not present with his attorney certain nonverbal cues, such as eye contact is not possible and could affect credibility. Conducting hearing over video could also cause a dehumanizing effect on the testimony due to poor quality transmissions. If the voice transmission is limited, this could also affect an immigration judge’s determination of critical factors such as genuine remorse and rehabilitation when seeking a benefit such as a waiver or application for relief.
So, the question is should a respondent and his attorney file a request for an in-person hearing and seek a continuance of the proceedings? By filing such a request, if granted, the respondent’s case will be continued to the next available date on the judge’s calendar which could cause a delay of one to two years. As an applicant seeking to normalize his status, are you willing to wait this additional time or do you simply which to proceed to the final decision. A critical factor is the type of case you have. If you are proceeding with a case that is straight forward and where you are clearly eligible for the relief sought, then a tele-video hearing should not affect the outcome of your case. Examples of this would be respondents seeking adjustment of status or a waiver of removability based on hardships to family members. However, where credibility is a critical factor or where the application for asylum or other relief is based largely on testimony of the respondent, then postponing the case for an in-person hearing may be a better option. In any case, consulting with an attorney about your options is very important. The attorneys at Minsky, McCormick & Hallagan, P.C. would welcome the opportunity to discuss this issue with you or to discuss any other immigration questions you may have. Please call us at 312-427-6163 and set up a consultation appointment to discuss your case.